As quick as votes are tallied on Election Day, the Rappahannock County School Board will be welcoming one new member and welcoming back another.
Rachel Bynum, a Sperryville farmer and parent of two Rappahannock County Elementary School students, and incumbent Larry Grove, a career educator who was first elected to the board in 2013, are both running unopposed on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Bynum, who has been an active school volunteer and advocate for the children of Rappahannock while operating Waterpenny Farm with her husband, Eric Plaksin, will fill the seat of vice chair Aline Johnson, who is stepping down after 18 productive years on the board.
“I’ve been in sort of constant contact with Aline Johnson since our kids started in the schools — she’s been a wonderful role model, a great listener when things haven’t been addressed within the schools, and she just has an unfailing view of how things are going to affect the kids, what’s good for the kids. She’s been aspiring,” Bynum says during an interview in, where else, but the barn of Waterpenny Farm.
“So years ago, actually, [Aline] didn’t think she wanted to run again, and she had approached Eric and myself saying, ‘Maybe you’d be interested?’ as we’d been involved with the school as things have come up. I never thought of that for me necessarily, until a few people I respect suggested it.”
And they suggested it for good reason. For 15 years, among other school-related activities, Bynum has hosted field trips at her farm for horticultural, botany, environmental science, and social studies classes. As a member of the board of directors of RappFlow, she’s organized recycling assemblies at the schools. She’s served as co-chair of the elementary school playground committee, working expeditiously to install a new much-needed playground, which has recently been finished off with huge painted maps of the world, United States, Virginia and Rappahannock County. And when the regular school day is done Bynum has been a After School Program instructor for Headwaters.
For her many efforts, Bynum in 2014 was recipient of Rappahannock Public Schools’ “Above and Beyond” award.
“This farm is almost an extension of my interest in education,” Bynum says, “what I think will prepare our students better for life. I’m a big proponent of project-based learning initiatives — hands-on learning — which prepares our students much better for the future. And I do think the surprise exit [last January] of our old superintendent and the selection of [Superintendent] Shannon Grimsley puts us in a position of positive growth for the schools. I really like the directions the schools are going under Shannon.”
Among Bynum’s personal goals for her first term on the school board: Improving school-parent and school-community communication, particularly surrounding positive accomplishments in the schools: supporting teachers and giving them the respect they deserve as trustees of the future; and supporting a culture of curiosity and enthusiasm of learning at all levels.
Not surprisingly, she will be promoting more hands-on and project-based learning. Course offerings, Bynum says, should include a full spectrum of high-level academic offerings, as well as vocational training. She will also encourage student participation in a wide array of challenging (and fun) extra-curricular activities, including sports, band, drama, and Quiz Bowl.
In nurturing and strengthening the ties between community organizations and schools, while also encouraging increased parent involvement, she pledges “to listen respectfully to both parent and community concerns while building and maintaining trust.”
Larry Grove’s impressive resume, meanwhile, reads like a university president’s. Earning his master’s degree at Virginia Tech, he continued coursework in educational administration at the University of Virginia. In his path of administrative leadership, he attended the Vanderbilt University Principal Institute and also the Institute for Educational Leadership. During the course of his distinguished educational career, he both taught school and was a principal in Arlington County Public Schools for 20 years. In addition, he has consulted for the State Department Office of Overseas Schools.
Grove and his wife, Kathleen Flaherty, whose family settled on Red Oak Mountain in the early 1700s, live on Belle Ridge Farm in Woodville. From there he has kept extremely active as president of the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department and the Lions Club of Rappahannock County.
But his passion has been education. Running for his second term on the board, he is proud of what he and his colleagues have accomplished of late, including increased participation in the Mountain Vista Governor’s School for Science, Math & Technology in Warrenton, one of Virginia’s 18 state-initiated governor’s schools serving primarily 11th and 12th graders.
“I think increasing our slots at Mountain Vista . . . is something that I thought was important for us to do, something for us to create an atmosphere that attracted bright kids, an atmosphere that worked for all kids, and if you don’t have the top you don’t have all kids,” Grove says in an interview at his farm. “When I went there I think we had two youngsters in the governor’s school, and we’re at 10 at this point. It’s a big success.”
Grove also points to the board’s influence in preparing Rappahannock students for college.
“Our influence with Mountain Vista and also with LFCC [Lord Fairfax Community College] increases the number of college classes high school students can take — and they can take them at the high school,” he points out. “We also budgeted for this year an additional $10,000 to pay for students taking classes in all areas at LFCC, to assist in the tuition for that.”
Seeing it from a student’s perspective, Grove says: “You prepare for college and then you do whatever you want to do. You don’t have to go right away, you don’t have to go to a 4-year school right away, but if you’re not prepared you can’t.
“So that’s kind of my mission, to have all the tickets punched before graduation.”
Grove is also working hard to get more students involved in community service activities, “where I think we’re doing a much better job,” including in conjunction with the Lions Club he’s so actively involved with.
Like Bynum, he says the school board has “made a real good choice” in hiring Shannon Grimsley as the new schools superintendent: “We had some really good candidates, which is beneficial for us, and I think we made an excellent choice with Shannon. She’s young in her tenure, but to this point in time she’s pretty much done everything, in my opinion, right.”
And as Bynum stressed, Grove too would like to see the county’s public school system welcome more students, including those who might be attending private schools or else are home-schooled.
“I would love to see us attract more kids quite honestly,” he says. “I think we provide opportunities for kids to be successful. I think we publicize that they’re successful. I think that we let people know that our kids can go to UVA, they can go to William & Mary, they can go to Princeton or Stanford or wherever they want to go.
“And they can also prepare themselves to be great tradesmen, and good workers, and lifelong learners,” Grove adds. “The idea is that the school needs to be open to all kinds of different opportunities for kids. And the state is going to be putting some dollars into that process as well. I’m confident that the new high school graduate is going to have a lot of different skills that they maybe have not had before.”
At the same time, and while he realizes he’s at risk for saying so, Grove is disappointed that Rappahannock County doesn’t “have opportunities for young people to stay here. And without the opportunities for young people to stay here they’re obviously not going to.”
“We need some 20-year thinking that says 20 years from now what’s Rappahannock going to look like? I want it to be mountains and open, but I also know that it needs to provide economic opportunities for families,” he says.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to be a retirement home,” Grove opines. “My dad said if you’re not walking forward you’re going backwards, there’s no other alternative. I truly do believe that. I think we need to preserve the certain things that we have here in Rappahannock, but I also think that we need to look in a forward-looking manner that provide opportunities for young people.”